The Spectacle Blog

Abstract Obama

By on 7.15.08 | 8:09AM

There's lots of good stuff in Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Barack Obama's years in Chicago that has been overshadowed by the cover art. Many conservative bloggers have noted Obama's absurdly naïve response to 9/11, as well as his unbridled political ambition and high self regard. But I found the following bit, in which Obama describes his days as a community organizer, as the most telling:

"When I started organizing, I understood the idea of social change in a very abstract way," Obama told me last year. "It was to some extent informed by my years in Indonesia, seeing extreme poverty and disparities of wealth and understanding sort of in a dim way that life wasn't fair and government had something to do with it. I understood the role that issues like race played and took inspiration from the civil-rights movement and what the student sit-ins had accomplished and the freedom rides.

"But I didn't come out of a political family, didn't have a history of activism in my family. So I understood these things in the abstract. When I went to Chicago, it was the first time that I had the opportunity to test out my ideas. And for the most part I would say I wasn't wildly successful. The victories that we achieved were extraordinarily modest: you know, getting a job-training site set up or getting an after-school program for young people put in place."


It's hard to think of any Obama quote that tells you more than you need to know about the man. He talks a big game about abstract ideas and theories and he's adept at ruminating about the failures of others, but when given the chance, he has never accomplished anything tangible himself. It's the difference between a critic and an artist, a sports writer and a star athlete, or a business professor and a CEO.

Of course, from a conservative perspective, this is comforting. If there is going to be a President Obama, I'd like for him to accomplish as little as possible.

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